Time for government to pull the plug on electric vehicle subsidies

I switched to an electric vehicle a year ago.

Quick-accelerating, so quiet its sound system seems it’s in my living room – and, of course, no fuel charges. When I draw near a service station now, I only wonder if I need a bargain-priced sports drink to play hockey. Glancing at the gas price signage makes for smug sanctimony.

I adore the car, you understand? What I just don’t understand: why would governments give anyone money to buy an EV?

First off, why stimulate EV demand at this point? Manufacturers seemingly can’t produce enough of them at these prices and certainly can’t keep up when subsidies distort the market. No need, I say: the public has tweaked to their value, gas is absurdly taxed, more affordable models are coming for most budgets. We early adopters meantime pay more for that privilege, just as we have with any new gadget. We’ll be fine.

Second, owning an EV is not only good for the environment but also good for an investment.

If a new car loses 15% of its value when you drive it off the lot, an EV recoups that and more each year it operates. Gas, oil and maintenance costs vaporize. Tires are inexpensive.

But in a peculiar political appeasement, there are rebates on new models and funds for worn-out trade-ins (full disclosure: my used EV didn’t qualify and, no, I’m not resentful).

As we say on the softball pitch when our team hits a foul ball: good intention, wrong direction – as is any policy tailored to price points with finite funds that run their course each fiscal year. It’s a swing and miss on the bigger picture.

Rather than give people thousands, governments should be spending those dollars and more on high-speed charging stations so vehicles can take longer trips and reboot more swiftly and conveniently.

News to government: we EV customers are like the first waves of personal computer owners. We know tech will improve – prices will decrease, functionality will increase – so we’re prepared to pay to play.

But there has been a striking difference in government approach to the arrival of PCs compared with EVs. Back in the day, government recognized the importance of an accessible internet, so it (and the telecoms) bankrolled the broadband necessary to enable the electronic superhighway. Government (and manufacturers) should focus attention now to enable the electric highway.

I know many people won’t buy in until the batteries are better for trips. We suffer what we call “range anxiety,” fear of no juice. A tire you can change, a battery you can’t.

The lack of chargers isn’t the cause of EV scarcity in smaller communities. They’re city cars that will find a market eventually in the wider countryside, once trucks and larger SUVs are in the EV mix to serve those lifestyles and deal with more rugged terrain. But they are coming soon, and they too will need roadside assistance to charge for longer hauls.

It was generally a good call for cities to enable and subsidize bike-sharing. For many, particularly in pricey Vancouver, cycling is an economic necessity. That being said, long bike-
sharing rows sit idle in rain and inclement weather like public art installations. Of late, more and more parking spots are allocated to car-sharing firms. Again, not a terrible call. Car ownership isn’t cheap and Evos are easier on the budget than EVs.

That all being said, I can find only a couple of parking spots away from parking lots on our streets where you can charge – near BC Hydro buildings, for instance. Credit the utility for its subsidies to defray some (but definitely not all) of the cost of installing home chargers. Not nearly enough to deal with the issue, though.

For a provincial government of two parties that trip over each other to decry the gas guzzler, they seem strangely in the ditch on the path forward.

The prescription is easy to write: place the chargers at tourist stops, roadside attractions, eateries – any place where we drive and pause for a meal, a hike, even a lengthy gaze at the scenery.

Take the apprehension out of exploring this beautiful province fuel-free for hours, accelerate the uptake in EVs and transform the local greenhouse-gas footprint in the process. We spend on way dumber things every minute, for sure.

What’s the problem here? 

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.